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pa•limp•sest: n., Writing material (as a parchment or tablet) used one or more times after earlier writing has been erased; something having usually diverse layers or aspects apparent beneath the surface

Table of Contents




Introduction to Key Topics


The Delaware PowerStation


History of the Delaware Station


Future Plans for the Waterfront


Application of Case Studies


Designing the Site


Existing Spatial Conditions


Building Design




5 Abstract

The thesis uses the abandoned Delaware Power Station as a means to examine larger issues of post-industrial spaces and methods of adaptation. A critical application of a palimpsest is used to understand the building as a site within several layers of historic uses and adjacencies as well as contextualizing the building within a larger urban framework along the Delaware River. Several adaptive reuse case studies including the Tate Modern are explored as spatial and tectonic palimpsests which are then later applied as design strategies for the Delaware PowerStation. Analysis of the existing spaces of the power station is central in framing the way in which new structures, materials, and program are adapted within the existing shell of the building. In the adaptive reuse of the Delaware PowerStation, program is conceived as having two separate yet supportive roles that account for two different types of users. Recreational spaces are designed for the Delaware waterfront as part of network of trails and art gallery and exhibition spaces are designed to establish the PowerStation as a new cultural center. Each layer of the new design attempts at building upon the existing narrative of the building and takes advantage of the enormous volumes within the existing power station as well as some of the more unique architectural components of the building. In the end, what emerges is a palimpsest of space, use, and memory that registers the history of the building and site through its architectural design and program.

What is a Spatial Palimpsest?


Palimpsests traditionally refer to parchment, vellum, or papyrus that was reused by washing off or scraping away old texts to create a new writing space. For centuries they served archeologists and historians alike in the uncovering previous layers of history that have been otherwise obscured by layered and tangled surfaces of text. Initial texts and materials become often lost and partially destroyed by new authors adapting the material to incribe whatever it is they felt compelled to write. So, whether it was because of the lack of supplies or a desire to imbed new meaning into an

An X-ray image of the famous palimpsest, “The Archimedes Text”, reveals entangled layers of text and images that have accumulated over centuries.

existing surface, the writer becoms the active participant in the destruction of the original in order to create something new. What results, is a hetergenous mix of different layers that are so intertwined that is difficult to distinct what is old from the new.1 In a palimpsest, the material, whether it is papyrus or concrete, is subject to a temporal transformation along with the text inscribed into it. In archeology, scientific tools such as carbon-dating or radiographing can be used on materials of a palimpsest order to uncover which texts belong to the original and determine which layers do not. In his work, ‘Surface Research’, Henri Jakobs utilizes the processes of erasure and drawing as a design tool to build rich and layered textures of information.


“Palimpsest.” The Chicago School of Media Theory.

7 As the document gets altered over time, the palimpsest gains a highly textural quality as it is affected by man-made or natural erosive agents. And because of that temporal tranformation, palimpsest gain value as they become several layers of information within the same surface as opposed to a singular document that would lose value if it were to undergo any weathering processes at all. A spatial palimpsest is the translation of palimpsestual processes applied to a layered, volumetric design. In a surface

By the manual process of scraping away and moving earth, The Peruvian Geoglyphs imbed layers of interesting geometries into the desert landscape.

procedure of a palimpsest, scraping and erasing are the primary tools of the author to allow for new writing to emerge. As a spatial practice, those same tools of removal can be generalized into a method of partial demolition that maintains evidence of the original while adding a new layer construction. Design can thus be though of as a textual response, in that it communicates a design narrative that is responsive to an existing context and yet adds something new in its execution.

The Philadelphia row home, because of its side by side construction, can leave a palimpsest of information when an adjacent building becomes derelict and removed. The resulting elevation is a collage of material residues that trace former structures and interior volumes.

Things Lost but Not Forgotten


As a rule, products do not age well either through the process of things becoming obsolete or having an outlived use. For palimpsests, this condition is a given and but adds to their value a historic artifact. For buildings however, the aging process can be life threatening. “On Weathering: The Life of Buildings in Time”, David Leatherbarrow argues that buildings gain value as they age and their material surfaces become weathered.1 His argument appears at first counterintuitive; How can materials gain value via aging? The thin white walls of modernist construction, like that of Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye, have aged terribly since its construction through erosive processes and quickly fall into disrepair if not constantly maintained. All architecture, in fact, is subject to staining and erosive projects, but as Leatherbarrow would argue, these processes only appear as deformations if the building has an idealized state which can only subtracted from after its initial design. Architecture embodies a collective memory made visible. Leatherbarrow writes, “In the time after construction, buildings take on the qualities of the place wherein they stand, their odors and surface texture being modified by and in turn modifying those of the surrounding landscape.” Much like a palimpsest, buildings aggregate in layers of material transformation and are continuously subject to different interpretations in how they are understood within its site.

1Leatherbarrow; On Weathering: The Life of Buildings in Time.

In Peter Latz’s work on the landscape park in Duisberg, Germany, he uses ecological processes and program as a design tool to reframe how the site is perceived and remembered by the larger public. Once considered an ecological disaster area, the blast furnace plant in Duisburg was symbolic of the postindustrial Germany. In fact, no other city in Germany experience such a rapid decrease in manufacturing than Duisberg and the industrial wasteland became a blight along the city’s waterfront. Latz was able to incorporated as part of the program the weathering and industrial processes that he retooled to bio-remediate the site. Latz described the process as looking at original information as information layers and incorporated each layer as a fragment of an overall park system. Recreational programming was utilized as a key tool in reshaping how people interacted with the site and resulted in complete shift in the way it is perceived.

Adaptive Reuse as a Palimpsest


To understand the cultural narrative in regards to particular memories of a city, one can observe its architecture and built spaces. To understand the attitudes of the people towards its history and memory, one can look at the way the city responds to its historic buildings. For the greater part of the 20th century, there have been two dominant attitudes towards adaptively reusing historic buildings. The first attitude emerged as part of the Beaux Arts Tradition which offered a “promise of harmony and continuity between present and past.” Historic building adaptations were a restorative process that sought to replicate how the building once existed, often blurring distinctions between new and old and seeks as its ultimate goal to eliminate the presence of time altogether. Thus, the preservationist method treats memory and architecture as a static and singular entity rather than a complex layers that has changed with time. 1 The second method of adaptive reuse has emerged from the theoretical doctrines of the modern movement of the early 20th century. This movement although diverse on many different scales can be characterized by a critical moment that split histories into a dialectic between new and old. Adaptive reuse of historic buildings has thus resulted in a “clear break between parts” and a sharp distinction between the existing architecture and new design.2The existing architecture is largely left alone and newly designed structures are perceived as something separate. By splitting architecture into disparate poles, the memory is registered and shaped by fractured and discontinuous elements. Adaptive reuse of a historical building can be an opportunity for intervention to register the memory of the architecture and site as a palimpsest. When removed from the dialectic between new and old, memory can be understood as part of a continuous process that has evolved from multiple layers of history. This attitude towards memory allows for new design to insert itself as part of that process and results in a third method; ‘the palimpsest’. The ‘ArtHouse’ by LTL Architects is an adaptive reuse project that incorporates that pre-existing layers of the building that was once a 1950’s theater turned department store and used it as an active part of the new design.

1 2

Hewitt, Mark Alan. “Architecture for a Contigent Environment.” Crisman, Pheobe. “From Industry to Culture”

The Delaware PowerStation


Aged buildings contain a palimpsest of collective site memories that have both a physical and conceptual presence that when adaptively reused, can be registered spatially into an architectural design.

The site of the Delaware Power Station has evolved over time and has been influenced and has influenced important key events of Philadelphia. In its current state of degradation, the Delaware Power Station should not be seen as only an object in a neutral space but a critical element of a larger contextually shifting landscape. Environmental factors of weathering, industrial processes, and pre-existing activities of the site have shaped how that space has transformed over time. What the ‘palimpsest’ allows for in adaptive reuse is the ability to continue within an architectural narrative, a collective memory, and a history. Different layers tell different stories, and where the layers overlap can provide crucial points of intersection that architecture has the capacity to communicate through design. This method changes the role of the architect to the archeologist and the architecture into a palimpsest of important events and memories of the city.

Current Condition


In 1921, John T. Windrim designed the 2nd of a trio of power stations that sit along the Delaware River like Greek Temples with robotic prosthetics. As a working power station, most of the building’s space and program was centered on the machines that generated electricity, but also its civic functions as an important building for the city. Essentially the building comprised of three components; each with a boiler room for steam production, a turbine hall, and a switch gear building that operated the power distribution system.1 The turbine hall, designed by the architect, John T. Windrim, was modeled after the Roman Baths of Caracalla and had an similar monumental space, but celebrated the machinery and industrial processes of the space .The Delaware PowerStation loomed a total of 80 feet over adjacent docks and smoke billowed out from its 12 story tall smoke stacks. Arranged like columns of a Doric Temple, the smoke stacks are housed in the core of an expansive concrete shell that covers a total gross square footage the rivals that of City Hall and the Philadelphia Art Museum.

Decommisioned Fuctions Boiler Room Turbine Hall Smoke Stack Coal Feed Switch House

1 JohnD. “Peeking at a Powerful Past”

History of the Delaware Station


The Delaware PowerStation is an interesting point of departure when looking at the collective memory of Philadelphia. As a powerhouse of industry throughout the mid-and late 19th century, Philadelphia once boasted itself to be the ‘Workshop’ of the world as it rivaled neighboring port cities of both New York and Boston in terms of its scale and capacity to produce. Like its neighbors, Philadelphia largely developed dense industrial infrastructure along its waterfront for easier methods of shipping and unloading cargo. In the period of 1870-1920, there existed 300 different industrial processes which constituted 99% of the U.S. census’ total categories for industries. At its industrial peak, Philadelphia had a population of over 250,000 industrial workers who specialized in different fields, but were largely collaborative in a network of mutual trade relations. 1As a result, there existed a self-sustained system of production that relied on local tradesman and a local market of workers that bought the products they helped create. With the boom of electricity and other technological advances in manufacturing, industry saw a spike in production capacity and required large amounts of raw electricity to power its new machinery. In the 1920’s, Philadelphia constructed four massive coal to steam power stations that were able to bolster the energy needs of waterfront and even inland industrial plants. ecause of their impressive scale and prime locations, the power stations became symbols of the new character of Philadelphia.2

City Hall was an organizational tool for the early planners of the city aligning Market Street along its longitinal axis and Broad Street parrallel with its latidinal axis. In addition, the oringal designers of City Hall oriented the iconic statue of William Penn towards the park to illustrate its importance symbollicy. But throughout its history and to present day conditions, the park remains as a under valued historical area by the city.

1 “Philadelphia’s Industrial History: A Context and Overview.” 2 Electrical Power and Corporate Identity:

Tracing Site Histories:

A Timeline


Treaty is signed between William Penn and Lenape Indians


Penn Sociey Formed and Finances Penn’s Treaty Park


First Monument erected in Philadelphia at Penn Treaty


Jacob F. Neafie builds naval yard along Delaware River


Neafie and Levy Naval Yard builds 1st ‘Iron-Clad’ submarine


City officially purchases property to create Penn Treaty Park


Opening day of Park celebrated


Site sold to Philadelphia Electric Company


Delaware Station Built by John T. Wildrim


Expansion of Plant to meet demands


Philadelphia’s Tercentenary celebration at Penn Treaty Park


Power Station becomes obsolete


Park Expansions of sculpture of William Penn


Penn Treaty Park terminates the southern boundary of the Delaware Power and is one of Philadelphia’s oldest and most important parks. As the waterfront of the Delaware River developed with the boomed with industrial activity, Penn Treaty Park was a precious commodity of open green space for nearby residents. Historicly, it is known as the place where Philadelphia was founded, when William Penn signed a peacefull treaty with the Lenape Indians.

Future Plans for the Waterfront

Although there are no current plans for demolition, The Delaware Station is at risk for removal. In 1953, after the Power Station had become largely obsolete, PECO


Featured in Philadelphia’s 2035 MasterPlan for the Delaware Waterfront, the Delaware PowerStation as seen here poses as a severe boundary to Penn Treaty Park and the proposed trail networks to be built along the Delaware.

demolished a major portion of the site which still remains a vacant lot. Since then, the Power Station has been used for power only in peak demand times. According to the Preservation Alliance of Philadelphia, “the station merits listing on the Philadelphia Register for Historic Places” and argues for its potential as adaptive reuse project. The Delaware Power Station currently occupies what will be arguabably Philadelphia’s most developed and transformed site in the next 30 years. Major developers have already poured in money for casino projects like that of the nearby Sugar House Casino and high-rise condominium projects have already been built with several more on their way. With a new influx of users to the site and an area ripe for development, the Delaware Power Station is in a critical moment where it can be adapted to fit new users needs and be developed as part of a brand new layer of development along the Delaware River. 1 1

Blanchard, Matt. ‘’

Penn Treaty Park (illustrated in yellow) is currently surrounded by scattered vacant lots and nearby casinos and condominiums and rapid periods of development threatens once again the historic park.

Organizational Support and Funding Strategies h


Why? City Planners for Delaware Waterfront Manages the Philadelphia Authority for Industrial Development (PAID)

New Kensington CDC GreenPlan Philadelphia WRT PennPraxis Casino Free Philadelphia PA State Legislature Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority Philadelphia City Council DRCC

2035 Civic Waterfront Zoning Public Commerical Industrial

Promotes historically industrialized waterfront as a community resource Neighbors Allied for the Best Riverfront Fairmount Park Commission


Mixed Use

Envisions and plans the development of the riverfront and surrounding areas. Funds Maintainance and Park Improvemets Community Support for Waterfront Development Historically Invested into Penn Treaty Park Interested in developing public spaces and waterfront planning Developed City’s Waterfront Master Vision

Allows the development of state-owned land that is located between the pier h Council is involved with the approval of development proposal and zoning Revitalize a sustainable riverfront corridor in Northeast Philadelphia

How? Department of Housing and Urban Development Grants and Loans

ReStore Philadelphia Delaware River Port Authority

and improve natural areas and parks and to invest in downtown urban areas. A City of Philadelphia funding program for improvements to commercial corridors. DRPA contributes funds towards waterfront development

Casino Related Improvements

Nearby Sugarhouse Casino is invested in nearby Public Spaces

Tax Increment Financing (TIF)

TIF s are

Growing Greener

Invests in public projects within Philadelphia As part of the most rapidly growing parts of the city, the Delaware Power Station has a multitude of organizations that would be in support of an effective plan for an adaptive reuse strategy. Nearby Pier 51 (featured to the left) is currently being developed and scheduled for completion by the summer of 2011 and is being financed and promoted by many of the organizations listed above.

Adapive Reuse as a Palimsest: Case Studies


Case Study Application

The Dovecote Studio project was built by the London based firm, Haworth Tompkins, and effectively demonstrates how new construction can be designed within an exterior shell of a former building. The new structure was welded on site and dropped into the shell via a crane thus creating a layer imbedded into an existing layer of the shell.

Designed by the architect Lina Bo Bardi, the SESC Pompeii Cultural Center has been adaptively reused into a vibrant city center. The industrial shell that Lina Bo Bardi worked with occupied a large tract of an abandoned industrial complex and was converted to accommodate a variety of programs, many of which happened on the site informally while the building became abandoned by the former oil drum manufacturing company. Bo Bardi used the massive spaces within the stretch of warehouses and designed for programs from spiritual congregation, swimming lessons, exercise and other activities.

The Hamar Museum, designed by Sverre Fehn, is an adaptive reuse project that registers the memory of the site as an architectural palimpsest. Sverre Fehn was commissioned to design the museum on an important 16th century archeological ruin. Instead of separating the new museum from the existing stone walls, Sverre Fehn built directly within that framework, successfully adding another layer to the already stratified site. The new double-pitched roof of clay and glass is constructed directly on top of the ancient stone walls and its form traces the original outline of the farmhouse that once existed. As a way of narrating the different historical layers of the, Sverre Fehn designed a concrete path that moves the user through the project.

The architects Herzog & de Meuron retained the memory of the power station building by keeping its spaces and external shell largely unaltered and adding an intermediate layer of design that is embedded into the building. The former boiler rooms of the power station were stripped of its materials and industrial relics in order for its 15-30 feet floor heights to serve as a gallery spaces for the museum. The switch house was adapted to house new management and curatorial spaces which recalls its former role as the operator of the building’s activity. Most importantly, the Turbine Hall was transformed into an interior, urban street that allowed the exterior of the site to flow through its massively scaled volume that is enjoyed by the general public.


Tracing the Waterline at the Delaware Station


In this axonometric, the Delaware PowerStation was superimposed on top of site drawing that illustrated the existing waterfront and traced the historic watefront at the time when it was completed in 1921.

Urban Strategies: Waterfront Trail Design


The historic watefront is incorporated as part of an urban strategy to connect the Delaware PowerStation as well as any other future development of the site over the next few decades. As a water and soil remediation strategy for the site, the removal and successive design of the new system can help the water’s edge become more accessible to the general public and surounding communities.

Coal House

Coal Conveyor

Conveyor Shaaft


Boiler Hall

Buffer Zone

Turbine Hall

Switch House

Pre-Existing Progarms

Existing Voumes and Space Typology

The interior volumes of the Delaware Power Station are divided sectionally ito six groups; the switch house, Turbine Hall, the“Buffer Zone�, Boiler Hall, Central Conveyor, Removed Conveyor, and the Coal House at the end of the pier. Each space has a distinct spatial and tectonic features that the design responds both individually and as an overall system.

Terrace and Entrance

Passenger Conveyor



Art and Recreatiotion

Exhibtion Space

Exhibition Hall

Support Offices

Program Re-Appropriation

New Programs/Spatial Arrangement

The potential for incorporating new design that would facilitate future and present user needs, the Delaware Powerstation’s existing spaces can be adapted to house recreational and gallery spaces that take advantage of the enormous volumes within and ouside its shell.

Designing the Delaware Power Station


The adaptive reuse of the Delaware PowerStation is divided into two essential components; recreational spaces and galleries. Its two Boiler halls frame divide the program along the buildings East to West axis and is split by a central path for circulation that can transport users to either section. To the boiler hall south of its axis, the boiler stacks that occupied 12 distinct bays are removed from 2nd floor up and in their place, galleries are suspended into enormous and cavernous space. Similarlily, to the north of the central axis, the identical boiler hall is stripped as well leaving only a small portion of its boilers on the ground floor. Gynmasiums, running tracks, and various rooms scaled similarly to the art galleries, are to used for exercise and fitness rooms by the community and people who frequent the new waterfront trails that run through the site. Towards the edge of the pier, a boardwalk-like park deviates along the historic waterfront line carved into the site. The coal house that once fueled the power station in the past now ‘fuels’ the design as the place were users first enter the project and are transported into the either boiler hall or directly to the new exhibition hall.

New/Old Circulation: Passenger Conveyor Belt


The newly designed structural system carves through the coal house and extends towards the Delaware River creating an overhead shelter for different public activities. At the top of the coal is a large open terrace that has access to 360 degree panoramas of the Delaware River and provides for impressive views of cente city Philadelphia. Portions of the ‘coal boon’ are kept and are occupiable for an experience directly over the water in either direction.

Structure and Scale: Exhibition and Boiler Hall Designs


The Turbine Hall, similar to the Tate Modern’s approach, becomes a public corriodor that connects both sides of the buildings through its enormous vaulted ceiling. Unlike the Tate Modern, The new path that moves through the building is much more narrow and is slighted ramped and raised above the existing concrete floor that is largely left unaltered. Exhibitions are currated in the adjacant ‘Buffer Zone’ that acts as such between the public corridor of the Turbine Hall and adajacant recreational and art spaces.

Cut along the buildings North/South axis, the section above illustrates how the new structural system is suspended into both boiler halls. The system has been proportioned to trace the outline of the boilers that were removed and suspend volumes in place of where the dense machinery once stood in each one of the 24 total bays.

Currating the Power Station


The Exhibition Hall is designed to feature spaces that can accomodate rotating exhibits that are free to the public much like the Building History Museum in Washington D.C.

Pictured to the left are the largest of the three types of art galleries suspended into the Southern boiler hall. Scaled to heighten the sense of the enormous volume it occupies, the small circulation paths around the gallery bays meander through the design and currate both how a user experieces the sequence of art in the galleries and the Delaware Power Station.

Site Sections and Design


The Historic Waterline: A New Layer


A permanent museum that features displays of the history of the power station and Penn Treaty Park. It is currated along the path of the historic wateline as it weaves through different parts of the building such as a smoke stack as featured to the left at ground level and recontextualized that history within the those spaces.

On the bottom level of the Northern boiler hall, a pool area is designed underneath the 1st floor slab with openings above in each of the bays. An important feature of the design, water follows a portion of the path outside of the building where it meets the edge of the Delaware River.







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Temple Undergraduate Thesis  

Architectural Thesis on The adaptive reuse of the Delaware Power Station along the Delaware River Front in Philadelphia Pennsylvania

Temple Undergraduate Thesis  

Architectural Thesis on The adaptive reuse of the Delaware Power Station along the Delaware River Front in Philadelphia Pennsylvania